Category Archives: Stories

2015 Goals

Wow it’s been a while since I’ve written here.

I’ve decided to take back up posting more as a journal, than to publish long articles. Time is the constraint. I’m working part time for an awesome company in the US, and I’m trying to get two online business off the ground at the same time. One is to do with affiliate products, like Alpha Brain—which I’m promoting at Brain Performance Reviews—and the other is centred around building a Facebook community and website around rock climbing. It’s still fairly new, but I’m happy with the progress so far.

For physical goals, I’ve decided to do some powerlifting and want to get my deadlift up to 180kg, bench up to 110kg, and squat up to 130kg, for 1 rep maxes. And am following Pavel’s 5×5 program to start with.

I lost some weight over the holidays while travelling, so I’m eating a lot more now, so at least maintain the muscle I built last year.

I’m aiming to do a 30 second handstand with good form this year too, and to jump back and jump through in my yoga practice.

Those are really the main things. That’s it for now.

Explore cool spots off the beaten track in Ljubljana, Slovenia

(Guest post from Lidiya Petkova)

The Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, is a hidden gem well worth visiting, that will charm you immediately. Along with its famous castle, city museums, cozy little restaurants and riverside cafes, here are some local recommendations that are well worth exploring.

Shmarna Gora

If you want to enjoy a more active experience, there is something for you only 20 minutes from the centre, by bus or car; the 669 meters high Shmarna Gora hill. This is a good way to recharge and see Ljubljana and its surroundings from different perspective.

It is fascinating how many people are up for running or hiking the hill early in the morning, just when dawn is beginning to break, before the busy day starts. It is no surprise Ljubljanians look so fit.

On a clear day, from Shmarna Gora, you can even spot Triglav, the highest peak in Slovenia. The hike up the hill takes only 30-40 minutes and is with average difficulty. There are about 15 trails you can follow to reach the hill.

Near the top is the St. Antony’s bell. If you ring it once it can fulfill your wish. That is a pretty good motivation to reach the top, isn’t it? On Shmarna Gora hill stands an interesting gothic church. Just beside it, you can recharge in the Ledenik restaurant with delicious Slovenian soup and apple strudel. Also, there has been a longstanding tradition (since 1979) to organise an international run every year.

Two teas on top of Shmarna Gora

The muddy path up Shmarna Gora on a wet day

In case it is rainy, it might be quite muddy, so make sure you bring old shoes with you. Bus number 8 from Monday to Saturday and 1b goes to Shmarna Gora every 20 minutes from the city center.

Metelkova street

Metelkova street, the alternative and creative heart of Ljubljana, often compared to Copenhagen’s Christiania, is a must see spot. View the creative sculptures and graffiti by day and enjoy the diverse social scene at night. It is well hidden but easy to reach, only 10 minutes walking distance from the train station and main city square.

The area is comprised of seven clubs, live music spaces, art galleries, art studios, and a former prison, functioning as a hostel nowadays. A lot of cultural and social activities are going on and for those looking to experience something completely unique Metelkova is the place to be. It is a creative paradise, you can lose yourself in. At night it offers a wide range of music from hardcore and jazz to dub and techno.

Don’t miss it, and importantly, don’t fail to support this communal, creative space.

Metelkova, Ljubljana

Metelkova, Ljubljana

Hire a city bike

A good way to explore Ljubljana is to grab a city bike. There are about 31 stations in a close proximity from one another.

Here is the website where you can subscribe directly online using a credit card to be able to use the city bikes: http://en.bicikelj.si/. The annual price is 3 euros once you acquire the Urbana bus card. It costs €2 and can be purchased at any bike station. It allows you to use both, buses and city bikes.

Tivoli hill

Tivoli park and hill is another beautiful place to walk or run in the middle of the city.

Learn Slovenian

Learn Slovenian Online an online course for learning Slovene

If you feel like immersing deeper in Slovenian culture and learning the basics of the language, I recommend the course Learn Slovenian Online.

The Slovenian Experience: Part I

The end is still ways off, but I want to record the highlights and recommendations of my short time living in Ljubljana so far. I moved here in February this year.

Ljubljana

I nominate Ljubljana as one of Europe’s hidden gem cities. It’s beautiful, particularly the centre. I love the gracefully aged faces of buildings, antiquated, but still alive; the street lighting at night, walking along the river Ljubljanica, and how willows weep over the river walls. Cafes add outdoor seating which hugs riverside footpaths and fill with life when the weather is good.

Ljubljana street at night Ljubljana street at night Locks on a bridge over the Ljubljanica

Capital Market

For Lidiya and myself, the most anticipated event of the week has been a visit to the capital market on Saturdays. It hosts a section dedicated to organic products, many of which are locally produced; a fish market, with a mix of wild and farmed fish; a massive fruit and veg market; souvenir stalls; as well merchants of nuts, dried fruit, grains, seeds, dairy and even organic meat, for those inclined.

Capital market, Ljubljana Capital market, Ljubljana Capital market, Ljubljana

Even on damp days the market is bustling. Buskers are dotted around the centre and add to the atmosphere as you peruse the wears on offer, while enjoying a veggie pie, made freshly in front of your eyes, from buckwheat flour in wood fire stove.

Busker in Ljubljana

Local and Organic = Happy and Healthy

There are several milk vending machines around the city, the first place I’ve seen or heard of. You insert coins, receive a bottle and fill it as desired with raw, unpasturised, unhomogenised milk. The milk is delivered daily from Slovenian and Italian producers. I don’t drink milk, but appreciate having it available it’s raw form. It’s illegal so sell in many parts of the States, I’m not sure what the law is in Ireland, but I’ve never come across it in stores. The health benefits of raw dairy products are discussed here.

Even in the local supermarket chain Mercator, they have their own, reasonably priced, organic range. It’s a joy to live somewhere where local, organic produce is valued.

Sustainability

Equally valued is the environment. From what I’ve seen and heard of their nature, it is immaculately preserved. A friend, and fishing-lover, told me that the rivers there are home to the best fishing in Europe. Fishing licenses are quite expensive in monetary terms, ranging from €20-€80 per day, but good value in environmental terms, if that is the cost for taking care of the waterways and it’s inhabitants.

Places to visit

This is a very short list, as I haven’t done much moving around yet.

  • Lake Bled, is as beautiful as it’s reputation would lead you to believe.
  • Lake Bohinj is near Bled and home to Slovenia’s first eco hotel, Eco Hotel Bohinj
    Bohinj Park Eco Hotel
  • Shmarna gora is a hill, about a 30 minute local bus journey from Ljubljana. The 25 minute climb to the top offers great views of the city.
    The view from Shmarna Gora
  • Metalkova, a very interest place; an autonomous social centre in Ljubljana. Similar to Copenhagen’s Christiania.
    Metalkova

Rock Climbing

Climbing gear is really well priced. I’ve picked up new equipment from Iglu, which have a few stores in Ljubljana. You get a 10% discount there is you are a member of Stena climbing club. Stena has a really nice, and challenging, boulder wall. The average climber there is really good. (I was mezmorised recently by an amazing climber doing a full dyno on a 45 degree overhang to a pinch, a hold I would struggle with on a vertical wall). I’m consistently the weakest person at the wall, which I mean in a matter-of-fact, rather than self-defeatist way. It has put a lot of positive pressure on me to improve.

The weather has just picked up, and soon we’ll make our first outdoor climbing trip.

Language Learning

I started learning the language too. Slovenian study courses, and even in person classes, are in short supply. I met Valentina, who studies in Ljubljana, through MyLanguageExchange.com, a fairly suspect looking website (the design looks a little late 90’s) for finding language exchange partners. She has been teaching me twice a week.

After a few lessons, we had both mentioned how surprising it was that there is hardly anything available online to learn Slovenian. So we decided to do something about it and will shortly be releasing the online self-study course, Learn Slovenian Online. Our aim is to create, not only the first online Slovene language program, but to craft it into the best resource for learning Slovenian on the web. To hit that target we will regularly gather learner feedback to update and improve the course.

If you are interested in learning the language and would like an early invitation to try out the course, in turn for sending some feedback, let us know: info@learnslovenianonline.com.

Chance, Coincidence, Connection

I’m on a bus, passing Californian vineyards and what I think are orange groves. I planned to write about my time in Denmark several times, but the motivation never came. The five months in Esbjerg was great, and in short, I took advantage of the quiet town and Lidiya’s busy study schedule, put my head down and worked and thought and planned.

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls, the biggest waterfall in North America

I just spent the last four days in Yosemite National Park, which were quite surreal, partly because it’s so iconic—I’ve seen so many postcard-picturesque images of the park, and really everywhere you look is breath taking, that it felt like I needed a little conscious effort to make those images my own—and partly because of an insanely contrasting series of events that happened in parallel with my exploring this week, all related to work which I probably won’t go into.

Team Tito

Team Tito (minus Eoin)

Last week I was in San Francisco with the Tito guys, to work together as a team in the same location for the first time, and to host a meet up of friends and customers of Tito.io, an app we are building to be the best for buying and selling tickets.

San Francisco has been in my mind for some time. When I think SF, I think ‘alternative’; ‘the norm to be a little weird’; the words ‘yoga, vegan, organic’; ‘tech industry’; ‘startup capital of the world’, ‘liberal, progressive, open minded’. I had/have this romantic image of the place, that it’s perfect for me and that I would feel really good there. And, apart from a new type of crazy (homeless and crack addicts I’ve been told) that socialise around the Bart (metro, like the Dart) station on Mission 16th, my week’s experience matched my high expectations.

Bi-rite organic storeThe awesome Bi-rite supermarket; so much local, organic, delicious, super-tasty stuff.

Traffic pole

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge just after sun rise

I won’t ramble off the doings of my trip. I documented it fairly well on Instagram—you can follow me here if you like—or on Facebook. My last couple of posts were also heavily ‘doing’ filled, which is fine. I think the saying that “life’s a journey, not a destination” is effective in breaking a blind devotion to getting somewhere, but that it’s bias towards the importance of the journey makes the destination seem important when considered to the extreme, to the point of thinking that plans, goals or achievements are meaningless. A journey, by definition, doesn’t have to have a destination, but it can include one. So life can be a journey with a destination, or a journey with multiple destinations which decide and re-decide on, more or less, at will. That was a long preface to just say that I’ve been heavily goal/doing, or destination focused for some time (and still am), but feel more like writing some thoughts now, and that both are one and the same, not conflicting.

Buying a belt

At the end of my week in San Francisco, I returned to the Airbnb place I was staying at to pack and head to watch the Super Bowl with a friend from university, who I hadn’t seen in years. I needed to buy a belt, but didn’t leave time to go shopping before going to Brent’s. A house a few doors down was having a yard sale and I asked, by chance, if the guy running it had a belt to sell. He unexpectedly sold me the one he was wearing, which fit and was in good knick, for $7.

We started talking and he told me about his plans to move to Taiwan, to try life in a different country and that he was a couchsurfer. I’m now staying with Denis for a night, on my return for Yosemite, before flying home. There’s something about a shared love of travelling that increases the chances of random encounters turning into something cool staying with locals is more interesting that a hostel or hotel.

Talking to strangers

I’m moving at the moment, from Denmark, via London and San Francisco, to Slovenia. Not the most direct route and also means I’m carrying about 75% of the things I own with me. The downside is carrying 32kg on my back, the upside is always having my climbing and camping gear with me, which I probably wouldn’t have taken on the SF trip if I had the choice.

My bag at Camp 4, Yosemite

My pack, just arrived at Camp 4, Yosemite

I extended the week long ‘work’ trip by another week with the plan of exploring SF and the Bay Area. It wasn’t until one of my team mates mentioned Yosemite that I realised it was within reach and decided to spend my time there, unsure of bus times, weather conditions or where exactly I would sleep—I knew there were working lodges and campsites, but spent 20 mins trying to distill information from the Yosemite website to decide the best place for me to stay before giving up and deferring the decision to someone at the park who already had that info in their head. My bus driver turned out to be a veteran climber from South Africa who told me about the different routes as we drove through the park and suggested I stay at Camp 4, which I learned is synonymous with climbers. So the journey was smooth and by late afternoon I had pitched my tent in the middle of the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Despite it snowing towards the end of the week, weather conditions also turned out to be good and climbing is possible year round, so I set a mission to try and track down some climbers.

My tent

My little tent in the shadows bottom left

I spotted someone with a carabiner, and they told me how to get to some close by routes. There I met some climbers who weren’t really up for a third wheel, so I returned to the camp resigning myself to hiking for the rest of the day. At the camp parking lot I met Jacob, who was out climbing with his girlfriend and daughter, so I assumed there would be little chance of joining. But, Jacob offered a quick belay (to secure the rope while I did a climb) and I was ecstatic. We got on great, had a very enjoyable days climbing and chilled out back at the Mountain Lodge in the evening.

Climbing at Yosemite

Seconding Bone Heads in Yosemite

We parted company and the guys invited Lidiya and myself to come visit next time we are in the area, which I’m very excited about. I got one of those ‘I’m not sure when, but I know it will happen’ feelings. I returned the invitation, for where ever Lidiya and myself happen to be in the world. You can’t beat ending a day smiling and thinking that meetings like that are special and involve more than coincidence.

Connecting the dots

I watched the films Before Sunrise and Before Sunset back to back on the bus journey from Yosemite. If you haven’t seen the movies, they are two of my favourites which I’ve re-watched repeatedly and can’t recommend enough. There’s a line in the second one, Before Sunset, where Celine says that we tend to take connections with people for granted when we’re younger and then realise that they are rare as we get older. The optimist in me says that I will continue, relatively frequently, to connect with great people throughout my life, but the sentiment is a valuable reminder to appreciate and be grateful for them.

Those films, I watched around the same time as a few of friends. We related to, or just found fascinating, so much of the dialogue and discussed them a lot. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit, a couple of those friends, one who I practically grew up with. I’ve written before how, usually, I’m never home sick, and that I don’t really miss friends and family so much—with the exception of Lidiya, who I’m excited about seeing in the evening even if she’s only been out for the day. This time, pre-friend visit I was almost giddy excited, almost in disbelief, I realised I was more excited to see the guys and catch up, than explore SF. That was pretty interesting and cool. I thought about what the change was and the closest answer I’ve arrived at is a change in perspective. That, if I only catch up with these friends once or twice a year for a handful of days, then over the course of our lifetimes, that’s really not a lot of time.

So that makes this sense of gratitude twofold; to have met and shared and experienced so much with awesome people, and to have and appreciate the opportunities to spend time together.

Outro

So arguably that stuff is ‘doing’, not just thinking, but I’ve separated it from other doing stuff e.g. food experiences, visiting startup offices, running, climbing routes, hiking, camping in the cold, being afraid of bears, morning/daily ritual or other exercise and diet/nutrition stuff…. Stuff I think cool or significant, and could talk about, but more in a ‘describing the thing’, as opposed to ‘describing the emotion or experience’ from that thing. Or maybe there’s no difference at all and doing always involves emotion and experience, just at different depths. Or, another maybe, the events I decided to separate and write about made me think.

South Africa: Sun, surf, race-consciousness, remote working and travel

I had the great fortune of spending the last three weeks in Cape Town, South Africa. My girlfriend, Lidiya, was working there for three months and I made plans to join her for the end of the stay. I stayed at Salty Crax, a very cool hostel by the beach, for the first two weeks of the trip and worked remotely from there while enjoying only a tiny bit of huge amount Cape Town has to offer.

Salty Crax Backpackers

Salty Crax Backpackers

I’d been talking about the trip for a long time and any mention of South Africa seemed to be met by horror stories. Even Lidiya’s impressions from her first few weeks there were filled with stories from locals about murder, theft, quite open racism. Arriving in Cape Town though, I felt good from the moment I arrived and the dangers seem to be the same as any other big city. I didn’t experience or witness or even hear any stories of crime while I was there. Any other travellers I spoke with commented on the overexagerations of people ‘back home’ and even from locals. I’m aware not all spots in South Africa are as welcoming as Cape Town, but without writing an essay on balancing the pros and cons of visiting South Africa, I’d like to suggest things are not as bad as many make out and the country is an amazing travel destination.

One thing I did find was that I was super race-conscious initially. I noted how all cleaners,  construction workers and most people working in convenience stores and on the public transport systems are black. And then soon after realised that I was searching for inequality, remnants of apartheid and that my short term and limited observations were by no means an accurate reading of the situation in the country or even in Cape Town. From the little I experienced, I’m deeming myself unqualified to offer any opinion on the social equality of the country.

What I did experience were some of the gems South Africa has to offer, especially for travellers. And I met some amazing people… Here’s my story in pictures.

Hiking Lions Head, Table Mountain in the backgroundHiking Lion’s Head with Lidiya as clouds pass over Table Mountain in the back.

Accidental caricatures on Lion's Head descentAccidental human caricatures…

Cool tree

Very cool and interesting plant life, almost all local plants appear exotic if you’re from Dublin.

Penguins on boulder beach

We visited Boulder Beach in Simons Town and walked among penguins. They’re amazing!

I saw jaws drop a couple of times when I mentioned that Lidiya and I hitchhiked in SA (all our trips were short and great and safe). After meeting the penguins, we walked back through Simonstown and decided on a cheese-less pizza. We have 20 minutes before the last train departed for Cape Town. After explaining the situation to the pizza people, they assured us it would be ready in 10 mins. We paid up while waiting and got ready to make a quick exit… about 10 minutes later we were jogging, pizza box in hand, towards the station with plenty of time left. It was a 5 minute walk and we should have arrived 5 minutes before the trains departure. When we got to the station a guy across the road was bellowing at us ‘You missed the train! Whatch you gona do now!?’ over and over… We were early, though it turned out the train took off early and left without us.

After a half minute of indecision we headed across the road and stuck out our thumbs, and within the next 20 seconds the first car stopped. It turned out to be a Hungarian couple who were also travelling. We got in and talked and explained the train story. They told us about their travels and recommended their most impressionable spots. Wild Spirit, they told us, was a magical place in a rain forest on the garden route… We didn’t even know there was rain forest in South Africa. We noted the place around the same time we understood that they were not travelling back to Cape Town, but only going a few towns further. We decided we’d try to continue to hitch back and worst case, resort to a pricey taxi. Then we spotted out train; up ahead four of five hundred metres, snaking along the coast. We hadn’t planned on catching up, but after two towns we seemed to be ahead of the train. The next town was where our Hungarian friends were stopping for the night, so they sped up and searched through the town for the train station. We’d lost sight of the train at that stage and were no longer running parallel to the tracks. At what seemed like the last moment, we spotted the station, asked to stop, said goodbyes and thanks as we ran from the car, almost lost our pizza as the wind flipped the lid open, ran across a courtyard, ran through the unmanned entrance and arrived on the platform just as the train doors slid open. We boarded the train, smiled, and thoroughly enjoyed the pizza, the cause of the whole experience… 🙂 It tasted great. 🙂 Our hitchhike lasted only 15 minutes and it ended up shaping the best part of our trip…

Success Pizza!

We met an innovative busker half way hiking up table mountain another day…

And went on a day safari (which was like going to a big zoo really…)On safari at AquilaI feel so fortunate and grateful that I can take my work with me anywhere… 🙂 And got to work from some beautiful places.

Pukalolo Sunset

The autumn has just started in SA and so many local fruits were in season… We stuffed ourselves regularly with mango, grapes, honeydew melon, watermelon, prickly pears, queen pineapples, peaches… And the fruit is ridiculously cheap as well.

Mango in Company GardenFor any chocolate lovers, I discovered a the shop of Honest Artisan raw organic vegan Chocolate. They have only one shop in the world, in Cape Town, and hand make their chocolate in a small space at the back of the shop. The chocolate is hand tempered and made with only organic ingredients. It’s some of the best chocolate I’ve ever tried… They make the most amazing mint truffles! Check them out.

Honest Artisan Chocolate

We visited the Old Mill Biscuit Market, the greatest market I’ve been too in terms of atmosphere, diversity and quality.

Old Mill Biscuit Market, Cape TownLidiya, Thabo and I on Glen Beach. Thabo picked us up from hiking Devil’s Peak and we explored some of the coast line and had a great evening together.

Hitchhiking on Glen's Beach

We canoed through a valley, in the middle of a rain forest, on the Touw river in Wildeness National Park. The water was warm and very swimming friendly.

Canoeing on the Touw, the Golden River

Showers with a view at Wild FarmShowers with a view at Wild Farm Backpackers. This place was one of the best I’ve ever stayed at.

Wild Spirit wood workTo continue the story of our brief Hungarian hitchhiking adventure. We did end up visiting Wild Spirit as the couple recommended. I could write pages on our short stay here. First off, I felt at home, and so happy here from the moment Lidiya and I arrived. As if we had stumbled across something magical, like we were really meant to find this place. Shortly after arriving I met Jenny, the owner, and we got on so well immediately. She impressed me straightaway as a very happy person, and I soon experienced the strength and love and creativity and vision that made up some of the rest of her incredible character. I was privileged to hear some of her story, and that of Wild Spirit and it’s evolution over the years. While we talked, a couple who were staying in the room next to Lidiya and myself, picked a corner and played a set of their own songs. They were amazing, some of the happiest people I’ve ever met. Another after another got up to play and sing and all that seemed important or unimportant in life became easy and clear. I blissed out, walked to the handrail of the dining area, which was outdoors on a raised platform, leaned my head over the rails and the sound of crickets and other bugs intensified in the night. I breathed deeply and saw the Milky Way clearly above, then bowed back into the sound of the music with a smile and a feeling that I would remember this night as something special…

Monkey Land

We saw monkeys!

Waterfall Swimming at Wild Spirit

And swam naked at waterfalls…

South Africa national flower: Protea

This is the Protea, the national flower of SA.

 

VinesWe found the most amazing vine…

Bungee at Storm's River Village

And did the worlds highest bungee, 216m. 🙂

I will go back to South Africa for sure. There’s so much I want to see and do. I feel like I experienced 0.5% of the country, but it was an amazing 0.5%. 🙂

Looking Back on 2011

It’s been a full year since I’ve been back in Ireland and over a year since I’ve written here. I’ve been taking some time to think and review over the last few days and decided to put my thoughts about the last year in writing. To digest everything, to remember and be grateful for all that I’ve been so lucky to experience. 🙂

Here is a quick photo diary and ‘what I’ve done’ list in order of things that came to mind first;

  • Moved back home with my mom for a while.
  • Got a job in SkillSoft.
  • Read and listened to so many amazing books, listened to audiobooks and attended two workshops and a conference.
  • Started a fun business with my best friend.
  • Moved in to a new home in Rathmines with Lidiya.
  • Ate a lot of fruit, cooked amazing meals, tried new foods.
  • Got another amazing job, which I love and challenges and excites me!
  • Ran a 5k, 10k, half marathon and completed a sprint triathlon.
  • Worked harder than I’ve ever worked before, scheduled Sundays as a day off in my calendar, then failed to take sunday off.
  • Ran and exercised a lot; discovered Chi Running, P90X and The 4 Hour Body.
  • Discovered I can actually get more done and be happier by doing less.
  • Camped on the Aran Islands.
  • Cycled a little of the Ring of Kerry and the gap of Dunloe!
  • Travelled to Russia
  • and to Bulgaria.
  •  Returned to Glendalough
  • and Mount Djouce
  •  And got some climbing in, in Dalkey Quarry.


This year I really focused on work. I changed some limiting beliefs around money and made some big decisions about the life I want to live and set goals to back up to decisions.

Reading and Learning

  • Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week inspired me to start my business and opened up my eyes and raised my standards for what’s possible.
  • Michael Gerber’s E-Myth Revisited taught me what a business is.
  • Betty Dodson’s Sex for One was fascinating and made me think about sexuality in a new and more open way.
  • Cradle to Cradle shed new positive light on ‘environmentalism’ and helped me cultivate an abundance, rather than ‘use less’, mentality.
  • Tony Robbin’s Mastering Influence helped my confidence and discipline and changed my perception of the ‘salesman’.
  • Franklin Covey’s The 5 Principles of Extraordinary Productivity encouraged me to simplify my organisational systems, to put big rocks first, to simplify, plan and focus on the important.
  • Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness gave me confidence that I can make my own (our own 😉 ) business great, and that it’s necessary to have fun doing it.
  • Sir John Templeton’s, The Laws of Inner Wealth helped me overcome limiting financial beliefs.
  • Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, inspired me.
  • John Wood’s Room to Read amazed me.
  • And I’ll finish with Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life, which taught me that I am ‘doing enough’, and that it’s good enough. I would say this book has had the greatest impact on my life this year by helping me to cultivate gratitude and  a sense of balance in my life.

Some other things that come to mind are mangoes. My Greatest Food of the Year. 🙂 My landlord Seamus, a great man. Re-introducing fish and eggs into my diet. Working with Hyper Tiny in Dogpatch Labs – I’m so lucky and happy to be there.

I’ve just noticed there’s no narrative to this post, it’s more a splurge of thoughts and recollections of the last year, which I haven’t censored or organised. I found it interesting to ask ‘what was great and most important about last year’ and to just see what came. Hundreds of moments come to mind first of all the experiences I’ve been blessed to share with my girlfriend, Lidiya. Waking up together, running, exercising, eating, travelling, reading, talking about our future and dream home… That makes me happiest and is what ties everything together. I also noticed I’m not really holding anything back. I’ve definitely included some things in this post that I would have cared about being judged about before. Now I’m more interested in people’s responses. 🙂

I’ve touched on the biggest things I’ve learned; to always approve of myself, not to be so hard on myself (no 16 hour days and then beating myself up and focusing what I didn’t manage to fit in), to take the time, to breath, to think and plan, to take my head out of the water and check direction, to rest and to not work so hard. To keep learning and not worry about getting it right. To be happy with my flaws, to be real, honest and avoid trying to be perfect.

So I think I’m done. 🙂 It’s very interesting to distill a year into a blog post and see what rises to the surface. If I had to distill it further to words I would choose; Lidiya, Travel/Adventure, Learning/Constant Improvement or Growth and Health.

2012?

I’m aware I have been particularly ‘anti-social’ at certain periods during the year and would like to rebalance things a little more by spending more time with friends in 2012. 🙂

I’m going to work less and enjoy more, with the aim of being more productive, successful (by my definition) and happy! 🙂

Bring on 2012 🙂

 

Svanholm: Organics, Communal Living and decision-making for positive growth

Lidiya, Liam and myself made our way to Svanholm after several very interesting days at the Floating City in Copenhagen, with the amazing Signe as our host.

Lidiya and me playing on a Christiania bike at the Floating City, CopenhagenOur arrival at Svanholm was semi unannounced. We got in touch with the right people several months in advance, but closer to the date we couldn’t get a reply to confirm an arrival date. I was a little nervous on arrival, but five minutes after Rene greeted us, we were all ecstatic. We arrived to volunteer, or rather live as guest workers, for about a month. The conditions, or better, the quality of life for all members of Svanholm is really incredible. We had access to the largest kitchen I’ve stepped foot in, decked out in nothing but organic, and largely local produce. The accommodation was in very comfortable and beautifully placed in the south wing of the historical estate.

Svanholm's main buildingSvanholm's main buildingSvanholm is a an international collective, based in Denmark, sharing common ideals concerning ecology, income sharing, communal living, and self government. The 32 year strong community runs their own commercial organic farm, sowing grains, potatoes and veg of all kinds; agricultural produce is sold to supermarkets and used for the communities own nutritional needs. Livestock are organically kept also; milk is sold and the meat is used by the collective. Surprisingly for me there are only two vegetarians in the approximately 150 person large village. I was something of a wonder because I eat like a vegan. Most members like their meat and the manure the cattle provide is essential to the organic farming process.

An income sharing economy is in place which originally saw the income of all members going directly into the collective economy. All necessities were in turn provided. Less than ten years ago a reform took place and now the economy works on a 80:20 ratio; where 80% of each member’s income goes to the economy and 20% is received to do whatever you like with. Most members work in a professional capacity outside of the community, but internal jobs are created as well; several people are employed by the Building, Kitchen and Agricultural Groups, as well as in the Organic boutique, the kindergarten, in the main office and without doubt some other places I’m not aware of.

For electricity, two windmills are owned and operating, with excess energy being sold to the national grid. Several cars are shared successfully, managed by a booking system. A very new wood chip burner heats everything, the radiators and water. The wood chips are provided by the community’s sustainably managed and outstanding forests. When we arrived in mid October, the weather was still warm and Liam, Lidiya and myself were running or walking almost daily through the tall and powerful trees decked out in the height of autumn.

Svanholm's forestSvanholm's forestMeals are cooked in the evenings by the kitchen staff and the food is fantastic. And meals are shared in a great dining area, joining the equally great kitchen. These times are very important I feel, it’s the time when the community is most visible. Everyone lining up to fill their plates, sitting together, talking, kids running around tables, or in the play room on the upper floor; it’s very much a large family. The dishes are taken in turn with all members of the community involved and on the weekends, kitchen staff get a rest and again community members take up their share. I stayed for two months in total and after the first, guest workers are asked to take up these responsibilities also, which is more of a treat than a chore. I always felt grateful for having food cooked every night, dishes washed… So when the one or two nights a month of your service arrive, it’s a nice feeling to put in your bit.

The main answer I received when I asked why people moved here was to bring up kids; it really is a paradise for them. A kindergarten operates within the village which is public and the surroundings are dotted with the most interesting and beautiful playground pieces; another community company creates what you could call very interesting, alternative and natural playgrounds.

Babies sleeping outside at the kindergartenMemories

My fondest memories from my time here include, cycling north to a local castle with one of our fellow guest workers and friend, Nis. I distinctly remember feeling the winds force increase as we descended our first gentle hill; the sound of speed and ease of movement increased and I seemed to involuntarily fill my lungs as full as can be. I exhaled slowly, felt a warm and relaxing current flow around my body and saw flicks of Liam’s, my brother’s, hair curling out and back giving way to the wind; Lidiya cycling in front of him; Nis in front of her. With the sense of relaxation came a thought; Here we are and this is what we’re doing and I’m quite sure this is how we’re feeling.

Tom impressed me much, a very young spirited man, who continues to lead an incredible life. He is part retired, but still drives a bus, and changes the world everyday. He visited us for an evening to show us photos of the most incredible houses he built in Sweden and we spent another in his little cabin in the woods, fire stoked and stories flowing.

Jorn, showed me how to work with leather, supplying his tools and skill. Toke and I had some great conversations which have given me so much rich material to grow with, some of it incredibly timely as to consider if it was coincidence or not… If you ask…

A leather sheath I madeI remember our dance evening. Carina, another part-time guest worker, anthropological student and very gentle person, her boyfriend Christian, a fantastic and attentive teacher and person, the super aforementioned Nis, along with Lidiya and myself shared our little combined dance knowledge and waltzed, tangoed and Irish danced an evening away; after the evening went we invited the night and it accepted. 🙂

Tats, a Japanese guest worker with a passion for welfare and dream of building an ecological cafe with the aim of supporting people with special needs, worked enjoyably with Lidiya in exchanging words and sentences from Japanese and Bulgarian, a beautiful cultural mix.

I wrote on my Bulgarian blog last year about self-questioning the fact that I seemed to not miss people so much. I happily concluded that I simply long for the next time we’ll be together and don’t like pulling on the past, but honestly I missed my brother when he left. We are running a marathon in April, the Connemarathon, and our training very enjoyably started here. We travelled together for five weeks and did some incredible things. He now publishes his work at liamohanlon.wordpress.com. ( I haven’t asked, but I don’t think he’ll mind me putting up one of his pieces 🙂 )

Pencil and pen drawing of a flower, by Liam O'HanlonI could spend several full and energetic lifetimes with Lidiya and she would teach me something new every day and keep my spirit warm. The memories are uncountable and to explain any further right now would take from the whole brilliance. 🙂

Martina, Signe and Lidiyasigne, Martina and MeWhat did I learn?

A wealth of things, but I will give my greatest impression from the collective; the decision-making process; simple, beautiful, encouraging creativity, solidarity, cooperation, construction, the building of paths to reach a shared vision where all are happy.

In short, monthly meetings are held, decisions made everything involving the collective are based on complete consensus. Everyone must agree for things to move forward. In similar democratic systems, this means painfully slow change, where one blocks the road, rejects a decision, and holds up everyone else. Here is you say ‘no’, it is necessary that you work towards a solution that sees everyone agreed. That might mean the decision is deferred from the meeting and a smaller group is formed between those putting forward the idea and those objecting; together you must find a shared solution.

This is simple, but there is hidden magic here. Firstly a divide isn’t created. If you have a majority consensus, you automatically create a two way split after a decision, pushing people apart; some get their way and others have to live with it because they are the minority (I’m aware some definitions of majority consensus democracy include that decisions be made with respect to minorities). So a complete consensus is a beautiful idea on paper. But in some cases, as I’ve been told is the case in the anarchist community, Christiania, in the centre of Copenhagen, one person can simply object and that’s that, the proposal is dead. It’s key that ‘no’ does not mean ‘no’, it means ‘no, but I am willing to work on something that will work’.

There are oceans and planets of distance between knowing what you don’t want, and saying no, ‘I don’t like, take it away’, and knowing what you want, or at least making an effort to uncover what you want through positively intended and creative efforts and collaboration. I asked whether those who have lived and experienced the model think it could be applied to governments and the answer was an outright no. There are limits within which this self-government effectively operates, and here is within those limits. I don’t think there it is by chance that the population of Svanholm hovers just under Malcom Gladwell‘s magic community number of 150.

The Great Oak, the heart of SvanholmI have to finish because I still page a list of notes I will continue to get caught up and we all have lives to get on with. 🙂

I had a very strong feeling that it was important for me to come here, that what I would learn would be incredibly enjoyable and support me for the rest of my life. And I’m happy to say I was very right. I recommend to anyone to come and experience Svanholm.

Svaholm's forestSvanholm main buildingSvanholm's forest

Amazing iciclesSvanholm in winterSvanholm in winter